Nurses need training to counter structural racism

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Research conducted with child health nurses in South Australia has found that they don't feel able to challenge structural racism, say Australian researchers, who suggest there is an urgent need for the introduction of anti-discriminatory education and training in the nursing workforce. Nurses are often the ones identifying racism or potential racism in service delivery but are often not given the education and training needed to help them counter racism in practice, say the authors.

Little research has been done to explore health professionals' understanding of racism in healthcare, and how they manage it in practice. New Australian research has now examined the issue through five focus group discussions with 31 maternal, child, and family health nurses working across metropolitan South Australia. These clinicians represent the core professional group working with infants and families in the first years of life.

The study, Mixed and misunderstandings: An exploration of the meaning of racism with maternal, child, and family health nurses in South Australia, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, explored how nurses make sense of racism in practice and contribute to ensuring that children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds do not accumulate further disadvantage in their lives through culturally unsafe healthcare practice.


“Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs and how values directly impacted on the care they provided for families.”


Lead researcher, Associate Professor Julian Grant from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said while child health nurses often identify racism or potential racism they’re not given the education and training needed to help them counter it in practice. She said the team also uncovered a lot of misunderstanding about what racism actually was.

“Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs and values directly impacted on the care they provided for families. They are all hard-working child health nurses who are doing the best with the knowledge they have. The main issue is that they, and most other health professionals, need education and tangible strategies to counter racism in practice,” she said.

The study revealed that even when nurses noticed structural racism, they often felt incapable of challenging it. As a result, the research team said there is an urgent need for the introduction of anti-discriminatory education and training in the nursing workforce.

Some study participants felt their practice was racist because they were not supported by the organisation to support families with culturally appropriate practices, such as co-sleeping. “They felt that this made their practice racist by not being able to support parent/family choices,” Grant said.

"Child health nurses work extremely hard to partner with the families with whom they work, but their practice is sometimes compromised because the frameworks used in their primary education is outdated. These results show that we urgently need interactive and sustained anti-racist education in pre-service, graduate, and workplace education," said Grant.

"Most importantly we need further research to find out what anti-racist approaches work best for Australian children and families," Dr. Grant said.

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